Ever since AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead took the world by storm on Halloween of 2010, zombies have been catching up with vampires as the creepy threat that has crossed over from horror conventions to the mainstream. But as with vampires, you’ve got to get through a lot of rotting ooze to get to the real gems: for every hit like True Blood, there’s twenty Dark Shadows and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter-type flops. So let us do the heavy lifting for you; we’ll shoot, chop and smash our way through the zombies that you wouldn’t want to deal with anyway, and you take care of the true greats of the genre. But make sure you’re locked and loaded… or at least have a very sharp object close at hand. The last zombie flicks standing are particularly tough ones. Make sure you aim for the brain, otherwise, they’ll just keep coming.
Night Of The Living Dead
Director: George Romero
Stars: No one really famous, but the casting of African-American Duane Jones as the lead was controversial for the time
Plot: Seven main characters are trapped in a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania, as “living dead” creatures (who were formerly human) attack them. They’re never actually referred to as “zombies” in the film.
Reception: A very controversial film at the time, which happened to be at a time before films were rated. So kids of any age could buy a ticket for this chiller, which ended in a very dark way (don’t worry, no spoilers here). Let’s just say that it wasn’t a feel-good finish. It was one of the most violent, grisly films at the time, with Roger Ebert criticizing theaters for allowing children into the movie. Today, it’s seen as a classic, with the plot being interpreted as a metaphor for the Vietnam War, or just an expression of widespread distrust of the government. In fact, it’s now regarded as a classic film that transcends the genre: it routinely makes lists of the best films ever, and has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”
Followed By: George Romero cranked out a lot of other “Living Dead” films (Dawn Of The Dead, Day Of The Dead, etc), but the original remains the best, and scariest.
28 Days Later
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris
Plot: Shades of Walking Dead! Murphy’s character wakes from a coma in a hospital after a “rage” virus has turned most of the population of England into zombies. The zombies in this film are stronger and faster than the ones in Night Of The Living Dead and make more formidable enemies. Also (minor spoiler), some of the bad guys are human.
Reception: It made zombie films cool again.
Followed By: 28 Weeks Later, but without Boyle and Murphy, and didn’t make the impact of the first one.
I Am Legend
Director: Francis Lawrence
Stars: Will Smith
Plot: Will Smith plays a scientist who believes he is the only surviving human in Manhattan, which has been invaded by vampire-like zombies (they only come out at night) and works to find a cure to return them to their original human form. He later meets other humans, and they fight to find a rumored “safety zone” in Vermont.
Reception: It was well reviewed, notably Smith’s performance, and made $77 million in it’s opening weekend.
Followed by: Nothing yet, but rumors of a sequel or prequel have circulated for years.
Shaun Of The Dead
Director: Edgar Wright
Stars: Simon Pegg
Plot: Who says a zombie apocalypse can’t be fun? OK, everyone. But it can be funny to watch! Wright and Pegg make mass extinction a laughing matter in this classic Brit film. ”Shaun” (Pegg) is a slacker/loser who is oblivious at first that most of the world has become zombies; he barely notices the difference from life as usual. This one doesn’t end as badly as some of the others, (spoiler alert) Shaun ultimately keeps one of his zombie-fied friends in his shed, where they can play video games together. It may not be a great message of tolerance, but the end game is, even though his pal is a zombie, their relationship doesn’t ever have to change!
Reception: The film got great reviews, routinely is mentioned on lists of top films, horror films, comedies and zombie films, and counted George Romero and Quentin Tarantino among its fans.
Followed by: … despite that, it is unlikely to be followed by anything, and no sequels, prequels or reboots are in the works.
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone
Plot: Jesse Eisenberg plays his usual character — witty, socially awkward –, but this time he is teamed in weird buddy-flick style with Woody Harrelson’s crazy “Tallahassee” as the two fight their way across the country. Oh, and he pines for Emma Stone, a con-girl who easily gets the best of him. Bonus: it has one of the best cameos ever. If you haven’t seen it, don’t Google this or ask your friends about it. Get the film and watch it. Thank us later.
Reception: The film did well, and both Eisenberg and Stone went on to much bigger films.
Followed by: Nothing yet, although there’s always rumors of a sequel or even a TV series (although there’s the matter of that other hit series where the heroes fight a worldwide zombie takeover…)
– Brian Ives, CBS Local